When lovers say a sorrowful goodbye, it’s because they no longer see eye to eye. Sometimes this parting is mutually agreeable, as both parties acknowledge an extinguished flame, but more often than not, love’s cruelty cripples jaded believers who still yearn for a partner who no longer reciprocates such adoration. Filmmaker Ned Benson understands these two unique sides to every story, as two people have their own intimate feelings, and this acknowledgement is the fuel for his romantic trilogy The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby – a single story told from both relationship perspectives.
Introducing us to a youthful couple full of passion and adoration, it’s not long before their world comes crumbling down around them. The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Them acts as the sum of all parts, spending equal time following the lives of Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) and Conor Ludlow (James McAvoy) after Eleanor decides a break is needed. While Him and Her will delve deeper into the singular psyches of both Eleanor and Conor, Benson first effort[[[p;;’ establishes the conflict at hand so we can truly understand the cataclysmic event that shook everyone’s world. Boyhood isn’t the only ambitious project to come out of 2014, as Ned Benson is starting a game-changing franchise of his own – but the jury is still out on whether such a task will work.
When we meet Conor and Eleanor, they’re a happy couple gallivanting around New York City full of passion and life. In proper cinematic fashion, this doesn’t last long, and we watch as Eleanor throws herself off a bridge with suicidal tenancies, thus kick-starting the story propelling The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby. We learn that Connor and Eleanor’s relationship had previously been tested by a heartbreaking event, and the two souls found themselves reacting on different levels. This is when Eleanor acts out her cry for help, deciding she needs to change her lifestyle in order to find relief – something Conor can’t comprehend. Cue Eleanor moving away, Conor falling deeper into his own thoughts, and a bond that is tested both by distance and tragedy.
Before getting all somber, praise must be thrown Benson’s way for bringing together McAvoy and Chastain in a brilliantly collaborative effort that conjures electric, astounding chemistry. Their characters must plunge into a murky pool of darkness that threatens both their lives and relationships, as each actor opens themselves up and bears a violently burdened inner soul. Their work together captures lightning in a bottle before it’s lost at sea, and the following film is spent trying to locate the magical vessel once again before losing a life built together – but time doesn’t wait forever. Benson’s couple is a revelation on screen, entirely due to McAvoy’s charming disposition and Chastain’s intoxicating bubbliness, yet they tackle a daring tonal flip with the same immersion. Attempting to find love in a hopeless place, the duo’s dynamic range perfectly captures the uncalculated ups and downs that love pushes us through, achieving an emotionality missing from most modern romantic dramas.
The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby is an unconventional love story, possibly even moreso than 500 Days Of Summer, and tests the bonds of love with insufferable grief. Benson heroically explores what happens when two happy people are thrust into a state of mind neither ever fathomed could be reality, broaching the topic with unbridled understanding. The “disappearance” refers to Eleanor’s shocking attempt to pull away in a time of need, leaving Conor confused, broken and distraught. Love is expressed through pain and suffering, as two lost spirits attempt to mend themselves while in a committed relationship – an intriguing take with powerful messages about self-healing and the drastic measures some consider.
People can change after a traumatic event and never recover, which Benson uses as an overtaking theme that threatens to erase years of blissful happiness from the lives of Eleanor and Conor. Life’s unpredictability can never be prepared for, and no single person reacts the same when faced with the gravest of adversities – we just try to pick the pieces up best we can. Benson’s film works in a dual capacity when analyzing such unfortunate dealings, being a hopeful tale of rekindling shared flames while also recognizing a storybook ending isn’t always in the cards, despite one person’s overwhelming feelings.
Then again, The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby is refreshingly honest, and reaffirms one meaningful, often forgettable constant – no one single human holds the answers to life’s greatest questions. Our existences are messy, unconventional rides that are always teaching us to grow in some way, and we never truly achieve a final enlightened destination. Numerous times characters will ask for help or be asked if they’re OK, and these rhetorical questions are typically answered with shrugged shoulders and a witty response about “doing the best I can” or another pertinent line about having no clue how to cope. It’s a sweeter reminder that despite being surrounded by know-it-alls and controlling forces, people only have their own experiences to fall back on.
Ned Benson has created an unequivocally steadfast romantic drama without being confined to the normal restrictions of formulaic love stories, capturing the later stages of a relationship as opposed to the typical honeymoon meet-up period. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain are utterly sublime in their portrayal of the couple in question, testing the boundaries of human spirit while also exploring the vastly different ways people harbor grief – a beautifully tragic parallel that Benson connects through raw, gutting emotions. Life is irrational, unpredictable and strange, and The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Them feels just as unpredictable, a testament to Benson’s spectacular representation of reality being transferred unconventionally to screen.
James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain display some of the best on-screen chemistry of the year in Ned Benson's ambitious romantic drama - an emotionally-charged story about testing the bonds of love while struggling with crushing grief.